When the world saw photos and videos of British champion swimmer Tom Daley knitting by the poolside during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, some were in awe of his knitting skills, some said it was time men took up the craft, while others discussed their memories of wearing hand-knitted clothes and accessories. This bred some dialogue around ‘men who knit’ or, as they are unofficially called, ‘sew bros’.
Daley’s Instagram account (@madewithlovebytomdaley) that shows his knitting and crochet work, has everything from a snowflake Christmas motif and caps for his cousin’s baby to cardigans and cat couch covers. With one multi-colored jumper, he raised money for The Brain Tumour Charity. For someone who took up knitting during the lockdown, he has come a long way!
His knitting photos on social media have attracted eyeballs because the craft itself is seen as ‘something women do’. Perhaps he didn’t imagine that simple stress-busting activity could be interpreted as a social statement: an image of a man crafting, using his hands to create articles that openly display the act of caring.
Craftivism, that portmanteau of craft and activism hopes to help people slow down and develop a closer relationship with themselves. This deep connection with the self contributes to a world that values creative-based handmade objects.
These threads connect well
On Instagram, the hashtag #MaleKnitter has amassed more than 14,600 posts (at the time of writing). Accounts such as that of Vincent William Jr (@visuvious_crafts) with more than 26,900 followers are trendsetters. Vincent, from Lithonia, Georgia, in the United States, did not think his scarves would be a hit with friends and family. When he started getting requests he set up a website, sold patterns, and gave tutorials. On his Instagram page, he knits Harry Potter character patterns and shares moments from family life.
The notion of knitting as a female chore was not prevalent in India, says Rajesh Bundle from Uttarakhand. He took up knitting as a teenager and still knits when his wife requests him to. “Up in the mountains men knitting is not a shameful thing. It is not very common now, unlike the time when I was a child,” he recalls.
Pan Ruibin is a knitwear entrepreneur who knits himself, in a village in the Chinese province of Guangdong. He quit his job in 2009 to start a business related to his hobby. He employs up to 70 local knitters, women aged between 35 and 70. Many of them had been unemployed for years with the decline of handmade knitwear.
A man’s craft, too
Increasingly, knitting is being used as a tool for men to have a dialogue about masculinity. Brendan Girak (@knitwitsandyarns on Instagram) explains on his blog, “I want to help boys talk about their mental health through knitting. It’s helped me. Having my own little knitting community helps me deal with a lot of stuff. We knit, and then we start talking about life.”
Other popular knitters like Vincent Green-Hite (@yarnpunk) from Portland, sells his designs online and does commercial collaborations. He has often said in interviews and across his social media posts that knitting boosted his well being and allowed him to explore questions around gender. He was quoted in The Guardian: “I was taught that, unless I’m getting calluses on my hands, it’s not a man’s craft. Crocheting made me feel more in touch with my feminine side, even though I’m not sure it should be considered feminine.”